Great Discernment Needed

Isaiah 44:9-23

There are few areas of life where discernment is so necessary as in the area of idolatry. The problem is that our hearts are usually blind to our own idolatries. We don’t see it when we make fame, respect, money, security, relationships, sports teams, or just plain stuff our idols. We have significant blind spots when it comes to the matters of the heart. Jeremiah tells us that the heart is deceptively wicked. Just how deceptive, though, is the human heart? Isaiah gives us a vivid, not to say humorous illustration of how blind people can be to their own idolatry. As modern people, though, we have an additional problem that the ancient people didn’t have. Our problem is that many of our idols are less tangible, less visible. This means that we have an extra layer of deception that is possible. We look at a passage like this, and we are tempted to miss the application to ourselves entirely. We say, “Look at those poor benighted ancient people. They didn’t have a clue. In our modern, progressive, enlightened world, we don’t bow down to a piece of wood.” However, people do bow down to trees. Some people worship creation, what we call the tree-huggers. They seem to bow down to a piece of wood as well. Maybe the passage is more relevant to our modern day than we might have thought.

The first point to consider is that we become like whatever we worship. Our passage says that those who fashion idols are nothing. The witnesses to idolatry neither see or know. Verse 18 says that they don’t know or discern. Even more evocative is verse 20, which says that he feeds on ashes. The ashes are the ashes of the burnt log which constitutes the better half of the log. Psalm 115 puts the matter as clearly as anywhere in Scripture: “Their idols are silver and gold, the work of human hands. They have mouths, but do not speak; eyes, but do not see. They have ears, but do not hear; noses, but do not smell. They have hands, but do not feel, feet, but do not walk; and they do not make a sound in their throat. Those who make them become like them; so do all who trust in them.” So, we could put the matter this way: whoever worships a block of wood becomes a blockhead. The amazing thing about this principle is that it also works the other way. If we worship the one true God, then we become like Him. We are all worshipers. Every human being worships something or someone. If we worship ourselves, we turn in on ourselves, and become narcissists. If we worship other people, then we become sycophants with a dependent personality. If we worship Satan, we will become satanic. But if we worship God, we will become, eventually, as like him as it is possible for created beings to be.

Secondly, we see the absolute folly of idolatry. This passage makes fun of idolatry. It is funny, isn’t it? Look at how much effort goes into making an idol. First you gotta tools in order. The ironsmith is first. He labors over the coals, but if he doesn’t drink enough water, he becomes faint. Imagine becoming faint while making your tools! And if that wasn’t enough, he got hungry, too! Making your own idols is hungry, painstaking work. What a mundane and wearisome task this is, to create your own creator!

Next, we move on to the carpenter. Here we can see just how much discernment is needed. He has to know which one of the trees in the forest contains his god. Look carefully, Mr. Carpenter. You wouldn’t want accidentally, now, to pick the wrong tree, would you? Even more discernment is necessary, however, once the right tree is cut down. Which end of the log is right for the fire, and which end of the log is your god? What catastrophe would result if you accidentally picked the wrong end of the log? Notice what the carpenter says after disposing of both ends of the log. After he puts one end in the fire, he says, “Ah, I am warm, and I love looking into that fire.” Notice incidentally that he sees the fire, but he doesn’t see the light! After he makes the idol, he says, “Deliver me, for you are my god!” How stupid, when really, both ends of the log are really only fit for the fire. Why is this so stupid? Well, it seems clear from the way Isaiah puts this that one end of the log is really only as valuable as the other end of the log. Again, that is why Isaiah says that he is feeding on ashes in verse 20. His soul is feeding on the burned side of the log, when he thinks he is feeding on the “god” side of the log.

Even more clearly and obviously, verse 18 tells us that these idol-makers haven’t got a clue. Don’t miss the point in verse 18 that God has shut their eyes. This is a judicial blindness that God has leveled against these idolaters. The idolater’s own heart also leads him astray, however, as verse 20 says, “a deluded heart has led him astray.”

The third point of our passage is that the creator of something is more exalted than the thing that is created. In verse 21, the Lord God says, “I formed you.” The true God forms and creates His creation. He is not created by the creation. This seems like a very obvious point, but people don’t seem to understand this about less tangible things. They forget that we are just as involved in making money or forming relationships as we would be in making a block of wood into an idol.

As verse 13 points out, the foolish idolater makes the idol into the form of a human being. That is as high as he can go. In all forms of idolatry, in fact, humanity can never get higher than itself. Look at all other religions, and they drag God down to the level of human beings. The Greek gods are a case in point. They were petty, selfish, lascivious, arbitrary, and cruel. They were no better than human beings.We cannot form our maker. How foolish it is, then, to believe that we can make an idol, when, after it is made, we have to baby it along, take care of it, make sure it doesn’t get burned up the fire that we used the other half of the log for. So, it is not just that the Creator is greater than than the creation. It is also a question of providence: the one true God takes care of His people, rather than the people taking care of God.

The fourth thing we see in our passage is that only the one true God can deliver people. He idolater asks his block of wood to deliver him, after he took such pains to make the god. Who really has the greater power to save? But in verse 22, we see that God is the one who blots out the transgressions of the people. Everything in verses 21-23 forms a contrast with what came before. God says that Israel is God’s servant in verse 21. This is opposed to the end of verse 17, where the idolater falls down in order to serve the dumb idol. God created us, whereas the idolater creates his own creator. God delivers His people from their sins, whereas a block of wood can do absolutely nothing except burn in a fire. Even the trees themselves find a proper place in God’s reckoning. The end of verse 23 has the trees singing the praises of God Almighty. Surely that is a better use for trees than making idols out of them!

So what do we really need from all this? We need to recognize our Creator. Great discernment is needed. There are many things out there which human beings worship. How do we know if we are worshiping the one true God? The answer is that God has to open up our eyes before we can see that. Just as Jesus opened the eyes of the blind, so also He opens the eyes of those who were spiritually blind before. What God does is the absolute opposite of what the idolater does. The idolater takes a tree that is alive and makes something dead out of it. God, however, does the opposite in bringing home a sinner to Himself: He takes a spiritually dead person and makes him alive. Verse 22 says this so clearly: “I have blotted out your transgressions like a cloud and your sins like mist; return to me, for I have redeemed you.” This leads us to the second takeaway.

The second thing we can take away from this is that we need the forgiveness of sins more than anything else in the whole world. That is something to sing about, as verse 23 says. We can only have the forgiveness of sins in the person and work of Jesus Christ. This whole passage ought to point us to a much better, infinitely wiser carpenter than this poor benighted fool of Isaiah 44. Jesus never does any of these things. Yet He came to earth to take on a created human nature in order to redeem us from our own sinful stupidity. What kind of a God would do that for His enemies? Only the one true God does that. Putting our faith in the one true God means that our faith resides in the only God who can save His people from their sins. No other idol or god in any false religion has a god who can save. Only the one true God saves.

Lastly, there is a note of final judgment in this text. Verse 11 says that those who make and worship false gods will be put to shame. They will all assemble together, therefore they shall be put to shame together. The only way to escape that shame is to put your faith and worship in the only being in or out of this universe that is worth believing and worshiping, and that being is the one God in three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, who forms the universe, and every human being in it. May we all sing to Him, as the heavens themselves do in verse 23, even the depths of the earth, the mountains, and all the trees of the forest.


The Judgment of the Canaanites

It is a fairly common objection to the Bible and to all forms of biblical faith that a God who would order the extermination of all the Canaanites by the Israelites cannot be a loving God, and therefore cannot be any kind of god that they would want to worship.

There are a number of answers that have been posed to this question that are inadequate for anyone wishing to take the Bible seriously. One answer is that God did not prescribe the war, He simply decreed it. This falls foul of the Scriptural injunction that God gives to wipe all the Canaanites out. He commanded them to do it (though with very important exceptions, as will be noted below. The exceptions, in fact, point us in the right direction, as I will argue). Another inadequate answer is that Israel falsely attributed the command to God, but actually conquered Canaan on their own steam. Nor is it adequate to say that all forms of warfare are evil, as if there were no such thing as a just war. Christian ethicists have argued from Scripture through all the centuries of church history that there is such a thing as a just war. The question is a formidable one, and it will not do to simply wish the problem away, or explain it in such a way as does not do justice to the biblical data.

The exceptions to the genocide are, as state above, quite important. Rahab and her family were spared. Why were they spared? Because of their faith. The Gibeonites were spared. Why were they spared? They believed that the land was going to Israel, and they feared the God of Israel. They used underhanded methods to gain their lives. And yet, while there is a reproach from Joshua directed towards the Gibeonites, there is no reproach from God, interestingly. In fact, in David’s time, the Gibeonites are allowed to exact justice on the seed of Saul’s line because Saul violated the treaty made with the Gibeonites. In both cases, there was a belief (on the part of the people spared) that God’s people Israel had the right to the promised land, and that Israel’s God was the true King of all named gods. There was a measure of faith, in other words. Whether we would call that saving faith is a question that would go beyond the evidence.

But if a faith, a belief that Israel’s God was the real deal was sufficient to create an exception, then we may infer from this fact that the Canaanites, as a general rule, did not worship the one true God at all. This is well-documented in Scripture. The false gods of the Canaanites (Molech, Shamash, Baal, etc.) are mentioned over and over again. The sin of the Amorites is mentioned in a revealing way: it is something that is not yet full earlier in redemptive history (compare Genesis 15:16 with later mention of the Amorites), thus pointing to a long-suffering patience on God’s part (He could have judged them far earlier!). Sin and faith then can be seen as the central issues here. The majority of the Canaanites were unbelievers who lived extraordinarily sinful lives (Leviticus 18). The exceptions were spared!

This brings us to the question: what did the Canaanites deserve? Did they deserve life? Did they deserve heaven? No one deserves life, and no one deserves heaven. The evidence suggests that they were a very sinful people on whom God’s judgment is therefore entirely just.

The objection immediately comes to mind, however: what about the women and the children? What had they done? The evidence of Balaam and Balak in Numbers suggests that the Canaanite women actively tried to seduce the Israelite men in order to get them to worship false gods. Ok, then what about the children? Weren’t they innocent? Psalm 51 states that children are sinful from the time of conception. Not even children are innocent. Anyone who thinks otherwise has never had children. They are not the cute little innocents that we think they are, though they certainly have not had opportunity to become Jack the Ripper. The point is this: what does anyone deserve? The simple truth is this: none of us deserve a single day of life on this earth. We have no right to demand anything of God any more than the pot has the right to demand anything of the potter.

If one wants to talk about the most evil event that has ever happened in human history, we cannot look to the genocide of the Canaanites. That was God’s judgment on a wicked people. God used the judgment as simultaneously giving Canaan to His people to be the promised land. Later on, when the Israelites became terribly wicked, God did the same kind of thing: He used another nation to judge Israel. But the most evil event cannot be the genocide of Canaanites. It cannot even be the Holocaust, as horrific as that was. The most evil event in history is the crucifixion of the Lord of Glory.

God has infinite dignity. A sin against God is therefore a sin against an infinitely holy God with infinite dignity. Try this thought experiment: contemplate the differences of the consequences that a slap in the face has with regard to the following people: what would happen if you slapped a hobo on the street, a fellow citizen, a police officer, the President of the United States, and the God of the universe? The same action has drastically different consequences depending on the dignity of the person being offended. Imagine, then, the heinousness of putting to death a person who is both God and man in one person, and therefore has infinite dignity; but who is also absolutely innocent and perfect. Not only this, but the method of putting Christ to death was the most humiliating kind of death on offer in the Roman world (it was reserved for traitors to the Roman empire: Jesus Christ the most resolute non-traitor, died the traitor’s death in place of traitors). So, the most humiliating death a person could die being inflicted wrongfully on the God-Man, who was and is perfect in every way, is the most evil event in all of human history. This raises the question: why would the genocide of the Canaanites stick in our craw if the death of Jesus Christ of Nazareth does not? The truth is that God brought amazing and infinite good out of the infinite evil (the power of God is manifest in its most amazing form just here and at the resurrection of Christ from the dead) of the cross. As Joseph says of his brothers, they meant it for evil, but God meant it for good. What is the good, then, that came out of the genocide (I prefer the term “judgment” for obvious reasons!) of the Canaanites? The Canaanites were judged for their sin, while the Israelites received the promised land from God. This event, in fact, is part of the stream of the story that culminates in the very death of Jesus Christ Himself. Therefore, there seems little point in objecting to the judgment of the Canaanites, which seems just. The real question is the marvelous, amazing, and inexplicable mercy of God in sending His Son to die for us.

Against the Documentary Hypothesis

It is not perhaps as well-known as it should be that Geerhardus Vos published a treatise called The Mosaic Origin of the Pentateuchal Codes. In this volume, he has some wise words about the supposed criteria used to “prove” disparate sources:

What the critics in reality do by this method, is just by a dexterous but suspicious movement to turn in their favor what is in fact against them. That an Elohistic phrase all at once makes its appearance in the midst of a purely Jehovistic environment, is a most perplexing difficulty, which cannot be relieved by declaring it the result of a variety of hands which have been at work upon the composition of the Pentateuch. For it is a sound critical axiom, that diversity of style and diction can only be verified by a comparison of lengthy passages, whose usus loquendi is exclusive. Isolated exceptional cases turn back upon the theory, and prove exactly the opposite; viz., that the criteria intermingle, which is tantamount to saying that they are no criteria at all (p. 29).

Warnings Against Presumption

A very incisive warning against false security is found in Eichrodt’s commentary on Ezekiel 5:5-17:

In both passages (he means Ezekiel 16:48ff in addition to 5:5-17, LK) we see the special danger which overhangs the God-given gift of grace. It is that false security, which prides itself upon its privileged position, making it into a pillow for human sloth and selfishness to slumber on. God’s free gift ought to be regarded as a call to service; it does not at all satisfy man’s lustful desires, but it does open to the human will a new possibility of union with God’s saving will. But man instead soothes himself with irrevocable assurances of the divine good pleasure, so as to save himself from having to make any efforts, and to make him the proprietor of a divine domain specially reserved for him alone to enjoy. This refusal to make the right response to the question which lies in God’s gift can have no other outcome but disregard for the ‘statutes and ordinances'” (Eichrodt, Ezekiel, p. 91).

An Argument Against Exclusive Psalmody

Let it be known at the beginning of this post that I love the Psalms, and that I believe the Psalms should be sung in worship frequently, just not exclusively. I heard this argument recently from a new friend of mine in the OPC, by name, the Rev. Brett Mahlen. He used to be EP himself, and so he knows the position from inside, as it were. The argument goes like this: the way most EP proponents phrase the matter is that we can only sing in worship words that are inspired, and that the Bible commands us only to sing the Psalms (usually they interpret Colossians 3:16 to refer to the Septuagintal division of the Psalter into psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs). The argument from my friend addresses the first half of the statement. If we may only sing inspired words, then we cannot sing in English, since the translation into English is not itself inspired; only the autographs are inspired. If we then say that the English translation (into meter, which involves considerable paraphrasing!) is inspired, then we are undermining our doctrine of verbal plenary inspiration. English metrical Psalms, as beautiful as they can be (and most worthy of being sung, I might add!), are not inspired Scripture.

Furthermore (and this is now my addition to the argument), by saying that only the very words of the Psalter may be sung, proponents of EP commit a word-concept fallacy. To remind ourselves, the word-concept fallacy is an error in logic that happens when people believe that words are the same thing as ideas, whereas the truth of the matter is that we use words to express ideas, even though those ideas could be expressed with different words. To flesh it out a bit more, an idea can be present even though a specific word is not used. Similarly, just because a specific word is present does not mean that the idea is also present. In this case, the word-concept fallacy is committed by saying that what is meant in the Psalter can only be obtained by singing the very words themselves. Then the error is compounded by saying that the English metrical Psalters can fit the bill of singing the ipsissima verba (the very words) of Scripture. Ironically, in other places in their Reformed theology, EP proponents would not commit this fallacy. For instance, Reformed EP proponents all (as far as I know) hold that the Bible teaches the doctrine of the Trinity, even though the word “Trinity” nowhere occurs in the Bible. They recognize that the concept of the Trinity is very much present (even obviously so!), and yet the word “Trinity” is not present. The word “Trinity” is our shorthand to express the fact that the Father is God, the Son is God, the Holy Spirit is God, and yet there is only one God. So there is not a consistency here with EP proponents: they say that we may only sing the very words of the Psalter, and yet they advocate English metrical Psalters to accomplish this, which English Psalters are not the very words of the inspired Psalms.

To push the point a little further, we may remember that several commentators on the Psalms have said that the Psalter is a mini-Bible. My description of the Psalter would be that it is an emotional commentary on all of Scripture, mostly in the form of prayers. The Psalter thus extends its influence on all the rest of Scripture in one way or another. If this is so, then it is by no means unreasonable to assert that any hymn that is biblical in content reflects the teaching of the Psalter.

Of course, no case whatsoever can be made for a position that says we must all learn Hebrew so that we will sing the Psalter in the original language. That would again commit the word-concept fallacy. The content of Scripture can be translated into other languages, and it is the content of Scripture that we want available to us. Translation of Scripture is implied in the Great Commission of Matthew 28, among other places.

So the EP proponent, if he admits the force of this argument, might respond by saying, “Well, as long as we have the content of the Psalter, then we are good.” However, once one has gotten over the hump of the word-concept fallacy, the whole game is given away, because of what I wrote two paragraphs ago. It seems to me that the claim that we must only sing the inspired Psalms is an essential linch-pin in the EP argument. Without it, the whole thing collapses to the ground. The EP proponents singing metrical Psalms in English are not singing the inspired Psalms, because they are not singing the original Hebrew.

My position is that we must sing only what is biblical. But by the term “biblical” I mean what is biblical in content. We do not need to sing only the very words of Scripture. Otherwise we would have to sing in Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic. We need to sing the content of Scripture. There is a continuum, therefore, of “biblicalness” when it comes to what we sing. Some can only marginally be called Scriptural. Songs like “In the Garden” have content that can be argued as being anti-biblical (really, an experience that none other has ever known? Are you the recipient of direct divine revelation or something? What kind of walking and talking with me is the song singing about?). We should aim, therefore, to ask the right question: is this hymn biblical in its content?

Why Christians Can Never Be Anti-Semitic

Anti-Semitism is still alive and well out there. Many people hate Jews. Many people hate Israel, the land. This option is not open to the Christian, although maybe not for the reasons most would suppose.

Although I’ve known this ever since seminary days, it has struck me more and more forcefully (as I preach through Matthew for the second time) that Jesus is true Israel, and that Matthew portrays him as reliving Israel’s story, yet in a faithful way. Coming out of Egypt, fulfilling Hosea 11:1, that bane of interpreters, being baptized in the Jordan, being tempted in the wilderness; all these things prove that Jesus is the faithful remnant of one, the true Israel, the faithful and obedient Israel, who has come to redefine Israel as a faith thing instead of a genealogical thing. Certainly Paul interprets Jesus as doing this in Galatians 3, 6, and Romans 9-11. The true child of Abraham is the one who has the same faith as Abraham, a faith in the Lord Jesus Christ (John 5).

If Israel is thus redefined, then a true Jew is not one outwardly, but inwardly, by the Spirit, not the letter. All Christians are children of Abraham. The old song about Abraham having many children, and we are among them rings true, here.

So the reason why we cannot be Anti-Semitic is that we are Jews by faith. We are Jews in the redefined sense of Jesus and Paul. The story of Israel is our story. If we Gentiles (by birth) have been grafted in, then we cannot possibly look down on the natural branches that have been cut out, nor can we boast over them, as if we were somehow more lovable than them. As Paul would say, couldn’t the natural branches be grafted back in to their own olive tree most naturally, indeed more naturally than foreign branches being grafted in? Yes, there is only one way of belonging to the tree now, and that is to be in the one true olive tree of Jesus Christ. There are not two trees (sorry, Dispensationalists!). Should we not, therefore, have the utmost compassion for the natural branches and pray for their re-grafting? Paul loved his people, and wished (if it could have been done) that he could endure condemnation forever if it would spare his kinsmen according to the flesh. I think Paul’s compassion well worth emulating at this point, don’t you?

This means that reading the Old Testament is reading our story, not someone else’s story. These are our fathers and mothers in the faith. Their struggles are our struggles. Dispensationalism has not helped the Christian church, since it has focused people’s minds on physical Israel so much as an “alternate” people of God. They think they can fulfill prophecy by helping Jews return to Israel. This makes them blind, ultimately, to the fact that Christians are the true children of Abraham, not in a supersessionist way, but in an organic way. The promises of Abraham come to us. This is why the Old Testament will never become irrelevant to the Christian, contrary to how the Dispensationalist treats the Old Testament.

Psalm 2 Prayer

Our one true and only king, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, not only do we desire to worship you, but we also desire to submit to you. We both lament the fact and are righteously angry that the nations to do not desire to submit to you. How dare the nations rise up in anger against you! How dare they conspire against the Lord, thinking that they can throw off the bonds of your sovereignty! How dare they use the intellect you gave them and resources that you gave them to rebel against you! How dare they seek to dethrone Jesus Christ, whose throne is utterly secure, beyond the reach of any who oppose you!

We know, Father, that such attempts, while offensive to us, are simply ridiculous to you. To you it must seem like these pitiful ants are crawling around on the ground seeking a way to bring down an elephant. And yet, you have also said that your mere words will be enough to put them in their place. For you have established your Son as King on Zion, high and exalted. You crowned Him with glory and honor, and have made all the nations his inheritance, the entire earth his possession.

These brittle nations who oppose you, you will break with a rod of iron, like a piece of pottery. Father, give us the words to say to these nations and rulers. Help us to advise them to be wise, such that they would serve you all their days, that they would fear you, instead of being arrogant; that they would rejoice in your name and your righteousness, and your kingdom. Father, may we all kiss your Son Jesus, submitting to him with deepest reverence, for we know that we want to avoid your wrath, and instead find in you the most blessed refuge for us.

Are Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 Two Different Creation Accounts?

It is a commonplace in historical-critical scholarship to say that there are two creation accounts that contradict each other, and that therefore, the first two chapters of Genesis could not have been written by the same author. The first bit of evidence given is that, in Genesis 1, plants are created before humans, whereas in chapter 2, plants were created after humans. The second bit of evidence is the order of creation for animals vis-a-vis man: in Genesis 1, animals are created before man on the sixth day, whereas in Genesis 2, they are supposedly created after (depending on one’s translation of the verb “formed” in 2:19). What is more, historical-critical scholars tend to view any attempt to see the relationship of these chapters in a different way as a “harmonizing” attempt (as if harmonizing were some kind of dirty word). I will make the argument here, not even based on harmonizing with regard to the first bit, but based on exegesis, that the historical-critical understanding of the relationship of the chapters is in grave error.

The exegetical flow of Genesis 2:5-9 has to do with the institution of agriculture. How did it get started? Well, before it got started, there were two “problems” or “things lacking” to rectify. The first was that there was no rain, and the second was that there were no farmers. Agriculture does rather depend on these two things even today! Going back all the way to Keil and Delitzsch’s commentary, the “bush of the field” and “the plant of the field” in verse 5a are not descriptive, then, of all kinds of plants. Rather, they are limited to cultivated crops (the designation “of the field” points this way). This is absolutely proven by the second of the two reasons given for why these plants were not present. The first reason, “no rain,” of course, would be a good reason for why any plant had not yet appeared. So, that reason for the lack of plants is inconclusive for our point. However, “no man to work the ground” in verse 5b cannot possibly be a reason for why wild plants were not present. Wild plants do not need humans to work the ground in order to thrive. Therefore, to interpret the “bush of the field” and “plant of the field” in verse 5a to refer to all plants of whatever kind is irresponsible exegesis.

Whatever one may think of Kline’s exegesis of these verses, I think his point about verse 6 is well worth considering. A two-fold “problem” needs a two-fold solution. Kline believes that verse 6 is a. speaking about a rain-cloud, and b. giving us the solution to the first problem (no rain). Verse 7 then describes the fix to the second problem (no farmer). This interpretation is confirmed, then, in verses 8-9, where a garden (cultivated plants!) is planted, and verse 9, where the emphasis is on the food quality of the plants. Verses 5-9 then tell us of the introduction of cultivation in history, which is a large part of the cultural mandate of 1:28-29. This points to continuity between the two chapters, not discontinuity. As many scholars have noticed, chapter 1 treats of the creation of all things with a sort of wide-angle lens, whereas chapter 2 turns on the telephoto lens in order to focus more specifically on the creation of man, and the covenant which God made with him.

One last comment on this first part of the issue: I have yet to see a single liberal treatment of Genesis 1-2 that even acknowledges these exegetical points. They simply assume, without any argument, that, “of course,” Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 contradict each other. One suspects that, even if a liberal were to read about these arguments for explaining the text, they would push such considerations under the rug, because they favor the idea of a contradiction, since it supports the JEDP source theory. Of course, a single author could not have had such things in mind as a more general account of the creation of all things in chapter 1, and the focus on the creation of humanity in chapter 2. Quite impossible! It seems to me that ancient authors might have been a bit more flexible than the modern historical critics give them credit for!

The second bit of evidence given is the order of creation with regard to animals and man. If 2:19 is translated, “Now out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heaven,” then yes, there is an issue there. But if, with the NIV and ESV, the verb “form” is translated as a pluperfect “had formed,” the entire question is resolved. The issue is whether the verb can be translated this way. The grammar of Gesenius/Kautzsch/Cowley seems to think this is a possibility. It cites Genesis 2:19 as an example of an imperfect being used “In dependent clauses to represent actions, &c., which from some point of time in the past are to be represented as future” (par. 107k). Waltke and O’Connor do not list Genesis 2:19 as an example of the wayyqtl representing a pluperfect sense, though they allow that this is a possible use of the wayyqtl, while admitting that it is controversial (see 33.2.3).

Joüon-Muraoka (in the second edition; the first edition does not discuss the issue) would call this use of the imperfect “very irregular.” J-M argues that the pluperfect can only be expressed by avoiding wayyqtl (166.j). Davidson allows for a third possibility for the imperfect: “to express actions which are contingent or depending on something preceding” 43(b). The upshot of the discussion is this, that we have four options. The first option is to translate “formed” as a simple past, interpret the form as a contradiction, and thus assume an absolutely idiotic redactor, who couldn’t spot the contradiction with chapter 1 if his life depended on it. Or, secondly, we could interpret the form as a pluperfect, which IS grammatically possible, at least according to GKC and W-O’C, and thereby alleviate the difficulty entirely, thus assuming a reasonably intelligent author. The third option is go with Davidson’s approach, and interpret the verb as expressive of an action which was dependent on some previous action, though I am not entirely sure how that would help us. The fourth option is maybe the simplest one: translate as a simple past, but then note that 2:19 does not have to express a time relation between the creation of the animals and the creation of man. I prefer option 2 or option 4.

Does this mean I am harmonizing where the text does not allow me? I would argue no. These are legitimate exegetical options. But if all it takes to “reconcile” these two passages is interpreting a verb form in a perfectly acceptable grammatical way, or suspending a time relation between two actions, recognizing along with many Hebrew scholars that narrative continuity is not the same as temporal continuity, then I would argue that the contradiction is the mind of the liberal critic, who forces it on the text. In literary terms, a contradiction should only exist if there is no other possible alternative, since we must assume that the author knew what he was doing, and was not an idiot. The problem that the liberal critic has is that he or she is so confident that there is a contradiction present that they are willing to build an entire theory of sources on this basis (along with the different names of God used in chapters 1 and 2, which would be subject matter for a different post). I hope I have shown that no contradiction is necessary from natural interpretations of the text. Where contradictions are not the only option, they should not be chosen. This is all the more true if we believe that God is the ultimate author of the Bible and that He cannot lie.

Psalm 1 Prayer

I have taken to praying the Psalms in corporate worship, and what I am doing is making the wording corporate, interpreting the Psalm christologically, and seeking to make the Psalm ours. This is my effort at praying Psalm 1:

Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, you have revealed to us that we are blessed if we do not walk in the council of the wicked, stand in the way of sinners, or sit in the seat of the scoffer. Make us instead to delight in your law, that we might meditate on it day and night. Make us to be like trees planted by streams of water, yielding their fruit in their season, never withering, gaining an internal, invisible nourishment so that, in anything that we do for you and for your kingdom, we will prosper. Make us not like the wicked, who have so little weight that the wind can drive them away. Though we feel alone in this, though we see and feel the pressures against righteousness by the world outside, we know, Father, that the whole congregation of the righteous will stand with us. Above all, you stand with us, for you know our path, the end from the beginning. You know that path of wisdom, and you delight to show it to us. You also illuminate for us the path of the wicked, and you show us its end. We praise you that Jesus walked not in the counsel of the wicked, nor did he stand in the way of sinners, nor ever sit in the seat of scoffers. We praise you that He delighted to do your will, that He delighted in your law, that He always meditated on it, that He therefore has become for us the life-giving vine who nourishes our faith always.

A Friendly Introduction to Biblical Literacy

Posted by Paige (Yes, I’m still around here sometimes!)

I’m pleased to be able to share with you a quirky biblical literacy resource that I created this year. Originally commissioned for a women’s Bible study conference last fall, this half-hour talk instructs beginning Bible students in the difference between “doing devotions” and studying a passage, using Isaiah 61 to reinforce my main points.

It’s meant to be a primer, so the content won’t interest most readers of this blog. But if you listen for just a few minutes, you’ll likely think of a few people who would benefit from this kind of friendly instruction. (Of course, if you listen to the whole thing I will be flattered!)

This talk is on YouTube not because it’s a video of me speaking, but because I created slides to accompany it, for the sake of visual learners. The talk can be enjoyed profitably just as an audio recording, too. Please pass this link along, as appropriate. Thanks!

« Older entries